Timestamp #127: Terminus

Doctor Who: Terminus
The Black Guardian Trilogy, Part II

(4 episodes, s20e13-e16, 1983)

 

The trilogy gets stuck in the mud.

Picking up right where we left off, Turlough is wandering the corridors of the TARDIS, sabotaging the time capsule at the Black Guardian’s guidance. A skeptical Tegan stumbles across him and resists his charms while escorting him to his quarters. Coincidentally, they once were Adric’s.

Two production notes: First, in close-up, Tegan’s makeup is a bit excessive. Second, this is the first story to call the round things “roundels.”

Tegan leaves, carrying the caduceus necklace from her first encounter with the Mara, and vents to Nyssa. Meanwhile, Turlough continues his nefarious task, removing the space-time element from the main console and inducing a fracturing of the TARDIS. The effects of the temporal fracturing are quite well done. Nyssa is trapped in her quarters, and as a skull forms on the door, she has no choice but to go through. As the door closes, the Doctor jams it open and follows Nyssa through to the new spacecraft beyond. The Doctor explains that this is a failsafe in case the TARDIS becomes unstable. Moments later, Tegan follows, and later (under orders from the Black Guardian) so does Turlough. The door closes behind him.

The Doctor finds Nyssa as two space pirates explosively board the ship and head to the bridge. Their breach point is sealed by what looks like Great Stuff foam, and the pirates discover that this is the wrong ship. They take the Doctor and Nyssa hostage as the pirate ship rockets away, but the Doctor convinces them to work together as the ship automatically begins docking procedures at Terminus Inc.

As Turlough and Tegan search the ship, they encounter a robot (from which they run) and a locked room with an occupant who cries for help. The door opens a crack and robed arms reach out for Tegan. Turlough saves her and they rush for the doorway to the TARDIS, but it phases in and out of reality. As the ship begins to dock, the doors open and the robed figures swarm. One of the pirates panics, proclaiming that the ship is a plague ship, and the occupants have something called Lazar’s disease.

Turlough and Tegan take shelter under the deck plates, but the force of the marching passengers jams their exit in place. They search for another way out as the Doctor and Nyssa accompany the pirates to the bridge. The Doctor searches for a solution as Nyssa stumbles, obviously infected, and finds the pirate Olvir hiding behind a chair. Nyssa coaxes him out, and he explains what he knows of Terminus and Lazar’s disease. The station supposedly offers a cure, and the Doctor discovers that the station is at the center of the known universe.

Tegan and Turlough come across an armored figure who orders the robot to sterilize the ship. They sneak away and continue the search for a way out as another guard searches for the source of rising readings of some sort. Meanwhile, the ship begins sterilization by pumping noxious gas through the crawlspaces occupied by Tegan and Turlough. The Doctor’s party search for the TARDIS, and Nyssa and Olvir encounter the robot. After Olvir inadvertantly touches her and Nyssa inexplicably takes off her skirt, the robot takes Nyssa to the armored guards. The armored guards want their hydromel – which is in our world is another name for tasty, tasty mead, but in this story is an antifreeze-colored vaccine – and take Nyssa to the rest of the infected on Terminus. The lead guard, Eirak, sends a wolf-creature called the Garm to search for the errant guard as the Doctor and Kari (the other pirate) search for Olvir and Nyssa, eventually ending up the station as well.

Tegan and Turlough keep hanging out in the crawlspaces, safely out of reach of the plot. It seems that Fifth Doctor-era writers had a hard time writing for an ensemble. The travelers eventually escape, but their contribution to the story is still minimal.

The Doctor and Kari explore Terminus, finding a guard named Valgard who knocks down Kari and attacks the Doctor. Kari retrieves her gun and shoots the guard, leaving him stunned as the pair escape into a forbidden zone… the same one where the errant guard went before. Deep in the bowels of the station, Nyssa has achieved clothing once again but loses hope as the guards ignore her and leave her with the infected, presumably to starve to death. She is soon taken for treatment.

Eirak discovers that part of the hydromel shipment is merely colored water and receives a report from Valgard about his encounter with the Doctor and Kari. Valgard challenges Eirak’s leadership, which Eirak offers in exchange for the stowaways. Meanwhile, Olvir steals a set of armor and sets up a decoy to deflect attention from his presence.

The Doctor and Kari come across Bor, the errant guard. He is burned by radiation, and the Doctor offers to carry some scrap metal as they continue to the station’s engines. The engines are damaged and are leaking radiation, and Bor is trying to build a shield with the scrap. If the engine were to explode, it would somehow affect the entire universe. Supposedly, it already has some time prior, introducing a Doctor Who explanation for the Big Bang. The discussion is interrupted by Valgard and the Garm. The former attacks the Doctor but is stunned as the latter returns Bor to the safe zone, which is where a bound Nyssa is looking worse for wear. Fortunately, Olvir is there to rescue her. Unfortunately, his attempt is stymied by the Garm, which is immune to the pirate’s blaster. The Garm takes Nyssa into the radiation zone, and Olvir follows. He battles Valgard as the Garm takes care of Nyssa.

Turlough takes his leave of the Tegan and requests help from the Black Guardian. After a hint, he dives back into the crawlspace, still offering nothing to the story but getting a terrible shock for his efforts. Seriously, dude, the panel said “NO TOUCH.”

The Doctor and Kari find the station’s control room and reason out exactly how Terminus created the Big Bang: The station is a time ship, and the pilot dumped the fuel from the malfunctioning engine. The resulting explosion propelled the ship forward in time, killing the pilot but jumpstarting the universe. A second explosion would destroy the universe, and the computer has already started the procedure. Thanks, Turlough.

Tegan and Turlough notice that TARDIS door is becoming more solid, so they keep poking at the bypass switch. When the computer announces the ship’s movement, Tegan runs to the control room as Turlough finishes his work and reboards the TARDIS. In the engine compartment, a wounded Valgard reveals that he was once a pirate like Olvir, trained by the same commander. Olvir refuses sympathy and leaves in search of Nyssa, and once the younger pirate is gone, Valgard retrieves a gun and pursues.

The Doctor and Kari try to stop the procedure, but lack the strength to move the proper control switch. They seek out the Garm, who is escorting Olvir to Nyssa. Nyssa awakens in a barren chamber, fully cured but once again in nothing but her skivvies. Why exactly is she spending this adventure in her delicates? Anyway, she figures out that the radiation could cure all of the infected if properly applied.

The Doctor summons the Garm, who then saves the day by stopping the fuel dump. The Doctor disconnects the computer from the control console, then fulfills the Garm’s wish for freedom by smashing the creature’s control box. The Doctor and Kari race to finish the engine shutdown procedure but are interrupted by Valgard. The guard is ambushed by Nyssa and Olvir, and Nyssa bargains for his help by offering a refined process to supply hydromel. That would free the guards from the Terminus Corporation’s control forever.

I recommend yeast, honey, and good clean water.

Eirak returns, prompting to Valgard to remind the leader of their deal. While the guards chat, the Doctor puts plans in motion to wrap up the adventure, but there is one more wrinkle that he did not anticipate: Nyssa wants to remain behind and spearhead the Lazar recovery. After tearful goodbyes, the Doctor and Tegan return to the TARDIS.

Meanwhile, Turlough has been tortured by the Black Guardian for his insolence. He has marching orders: Kill the Doctor!

And that leads me to the overwhelming problem with this story. It’s supposed to be the next story in a three-part revenge tale, but we don’t really make any headway at all with the Black Guardian’s plans. Turlough, the corporeal arm of the Black Guardian’s will, spends pretty much the entire story in a crawlspace with Tegan. While this (hopefully) sets up Tegan as the foil for Turlough’s plans in the conclusion, at no point does he make an attempt on the Doctor’s life except for the opening gambit.

Which, when you think about it, neuters the Black Guardian. Either he’s incompetent as an omniscient being because he didn’t know about the TARDIS failsafe, or he’s faking it and not really that all-knowing to begin with.

Setting aside the trilogy, I also have issues with the story. Terminus, the name being an obvious clue, is supposed a for-profit hospital for victims of the Lazar plague from which no one ever returns. If that’s the case, how are they still operating? Word has obviously spread that the Lazar victims, whom the Terminus Corporation demonizes, don’t come back, so why keep funneling money to them? Where are the regulators? Where do they keep the bodies? I’m missing something here, and that impacts my enjoyment of the story.

Finally, Nyssa. She has been one of my favorite companions in the franchise so far because she’s smart, capable, and independent. Her farewell suits her character because she’s sacrificing herself to help countless others. She’s doing the right thing, and she learned that lesson from the Doctor. The sad part of the tale is that this story does everything it can to objectify her. I can understand that she starts the story without a blouse because she’s working in her quarters, and I further understand when she has to leave half-dressed because it’s an emergency. I can even understand the logical leap of leaving a clue for the Doctor. It’s a huge leap, but sure, whatever.

What I don’t understand is why she needed to spend the rest of the story in her shift rather than getting a new costume from the wardrobe department, even if it was the equivalent of surgical scrubs. Logically, do the rest of the cured people end up in the blank room in their underwear or naked? Again, we don’t know, so based on the evidence, I see an attempt to symbolically strip down Nyssa to her most vulnerable state, but it backfired for me.

I’m really going to miss Nyssa. Her departure leaves the Doctor with two companions that I don’t particularly like, and while I like the idea of a Trojan Horse companion whose goal is to kill the Doctor, the execution has been lacking so far. I feel that there are tough times ahead.

Between watching the serial and finalizing this write-up, I spent a lot of time trying to land on a score. Nyssa is a big bright spot for this story, but there’s just so much to overcome between the mediocre and the infuriating. Sadly, it ends up at the lower of my two options.

 

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Enlightenment

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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Timestamp #126: Mawdryn Undead

Doctor Who: Mawdryn Undead
The Black Guardian Trilogy, Part I

(4 episodes, s20e09-e12, 1983)

 

The Key to Time comes home to roost.

A schoolboy named Turlough steals (and totals) the Brigadier’s car, offering quite the introduction to a new companion. He has an out of body experience after the crash, though both he and his classmate Ibbotson will be fine. The Brig, on the other hand, is incensed. After all, it was a rare 1929 Humber 16/50 Open Tourer (Imperial Model).

The out of body experience is courtesy of the Black Guardian, who seeks revenge against the Doctor after their last encounter. As Turlough recovers at the school, he discovers a crystal that links him to the Black Guardian, and we learn that he is not native to Earth. Under the Guardian’s influence, he leaves the infirmary (with a reluctant Ibbotson) and boards a transmat capsule.

Speaking of, our heroes are moving through time and space. Tegan is recovering from her experience with the Mara, Nyssa has a new wardrobe, and the TARDIS gets knocked off course. They nearly collide with a nearby spacecraft before materializing inside it, and the travelers find that the ship is abandoned. In fact, Tegan makes a Mary Celeste quip, continuing a Doctor Who tradition. The crew sought refuge on Earth as the ship swung through an elliptical flight path, which it does every six years. As the travelers attempt to leave – the TARDIS is trapped there by the plot – Turlough arrives on the ship and sneaks into the TARDIS. Everyone eventually converges on the phone box, and the Doctor takes Turlough back to Earth to disable the trap, leaving Tegan and Nyssa behind. As the Doctor works on releasing the transmat beam, Turlough nearly kills him with a rock, but the plot is foiled as the transmat device inadvertently explodes. Turlough is knocked back and the TARDIS materializes and vanishes.

Turlough and the Doctor are intercepted by the Brigadier, who doesn’t recognize the Doctor at all. The Doctor chalks up the memory lapse to his regeneration, but the Brigadier’s memory is still a blank. Meanwhile, Nyssa and Tegan explore the area and find a transmat capsule. Inside, they find a severely burned version of the Doctor who asks to be taken to the TARDIS.

The Doctor accompanies the Brigadier to the officer’s quarters. They discuss prior adventures, all of which seems to jog the Brigadier’s memory as he flashes back to the Second Doctor and a Cyberman, the Third Doctor’s awakening and regeneration, his brief encounter with the First Doctor, the Yeti,  an Axon, a Dalek, and his first and last encounters with the Fourth Doctor. Sadly, he’s also suffering from a nervous breakdown. As they share tea, the Doctor mentions Tegan and the Brigadier remembers a Tegan from several years ago. Turns out, they are the same person.

Putting the pieces together, we find that Nyssa, Tegan, and the TARDIS are in 1977, but the Doctor is trapped in 1983. Tegan elicits the help of the 1977 Brigadier while the burned Doctor supposedly regenerates into a new form called Mawdryn (cloaked in the Fourth Doctor’s maroon overcoat) and orders Nyssa to take the TARDIS to the abandoned starship. When the 1977 Brigadier arrives, they group finds a scream-worthy Mawdryn with his brain exposed. Mawdryn continues the ruse of a failed regeneration and eventually convinces the companions to return to the starship.

In 1983, the Doctor realizes that the events of 1977 may be the reason for the Brigadier’s breakdown. After finding the Guardian’s crystal, the Doctor also determines that they must intercept Turlough before the boy determines how to operate the transmat capsule. Together, they fix the homing beam, but it soon self-destructs. Luckily, the Brigadier has a homing device that was a gift from Tegan, and the Doctor uses it to take all of them to the starship via the transmat capsule. There’s a minor caveat: If Brig-83 and Brig-77 were to meet each other, the results would be catastrophic. As Tegan would say, ZAP!

The Doctor and Brig-83 find a room with stolen regeneration technology, and the Doctor presumes that Mawdryn (whom he refers to as the “creature”) wanted to regenerate, which poses a whole bushel of questions about using Time Lord technology to regenerate non-Gallifreyans. Meanwhile, Turlough works his way to the TARDIS and discovers a room of beings in the same state as Mawdryn.

Through a confusing series of events, Brig-83 encounters Mawdryn and hooks him up to the regeneration machine, Brig-77 encounters the rest of Mawdryn’s people, the Doctor reunites with Tegan and Nyssa, and Turlough returns to the TARDIS. The Doctor and Nyssa meet up with Brig-83 and get the story from Mawdryn, discovering that they are mutants who tried to use regeneration technology but instead ended up immortal and in continuous agony. Tegan arrives just before the rest of Mawdryn’s people, and the mutants beg for the secret to end their pain. Unfortunately, if the Doctor gives them that energy, he will expend all of his remaining regenerations and will die. The Doctor refuses, and the mutants scheme.

The Black Guardian realizes that the Brigadier’s presences may jeopardize his plans, so he orders Turlough to detain one of them. Soon enough, Brig-77 is locked away and Turlough returns to the TARDIS. The Doctor orders Turlough to take Brig-77 to the transmat capsule as Brig-83 returns to Earth on the TARDIS. The Doctor is forced to return to the starship, however, as the mutants have infected Nyssa and Tegan with their malady, which is exacerbated by time travel. The Doctor attempts to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow to escape the warp ellipse that confines the starship, but the attempt turns them into (rather adorable) children. The Doctor reverses it again and returns to the starship just as Brig-77 tries to leave (unsuccessfully) via transmat.

The Doctor has no choice but to sacrifice himself to end the loop. Everyone converges on the regeneration laboratory and Brig-83 begins the procedure. It is interrupted by Brig-77 who, by touching Brig-83, releases a large temporal energy wave. Nyssa and Tegan are cured, the Doctor is saved, and Mawdryn’s people are freed of their undead existence. The travelers return to the TARDIS and both Brigadiers are returned to their proper times, although Brig-77 won’t remember anything until he encounters the Doctor in 1983. The abandoned starship self-destructs, ending the loop for good.

And then there’s Turlough, who has stowed away on the TARDIS. He asks to join the Doctor’s crew, and the trilogy continues.

I admired how heroic the Doctor was. It added a certain degree of power to the story that we haven’t seen in some time. I also loved how the companions were able to carry a substantial part of the story. It was also nice to see the Brigadier again, despite the obvious internal continuity issues (First, Tegan didn’t give him the tracker. Second, there’s really no reason why he shouldn’t have been able to rationalize this adventure with everything he knows about the Doctor.) and the entire UNIT dating controversy. I know that I’ve been hard on him in the past, but he’s softened on the Doctor over time.

Overall, this was an entertaining and well-written story that handled split time periods quite nicely.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Terminus

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #125: Snakedance

Doctor Who: Snakedance
(4 episodes, s20e05-e08, 1983)

 

Someone felt a need to revisit Kinda?

The adventure opens with a mysterious man and his necklace as they sit on a barren planet. Creepy and kooky, but not particularly ooky.

On board the TARDIS, Nysssa tries on a new outfit while the Doctor puzzles over some strange readings. Tegan had set the coordinates for the next destination, inadvertently choosing Manussa, and now she’s having strange snake-related dreams. On the target planet, ruling family members Tanha and Lon debate the merits of celebrating the eradication of the Mara, the snake creature that the Doctor believes still possesses part of Tegan’s mind. The Doctor hypnotizes Tegan to explore this possibility and discovers that it is true. He recalibrates the machine so Tegan is protected from all outside sounds and the group sets out to find the snake cave in Tegan’s dream.

Tanha and Lon have already entered the cave as part of the ritual celebration with a researcher named Ambril. They are examining wall paintings that detail a legend of the Mara’s return. When the travelers arrive, Tegan’s fear prevents her from entering, so Nyssa waits while the Doctor explores within. A salesman scares Tegan with snake toys, causing her to run into the crowd and disappear. The Doctor finds the ruling family and convinces them to meet Tegan, but with her disappearance, they dismiss him.

Nyssa and the Doctor return to the TARDIS, expecting Tegan will try to find her way back, but Tegan has collapsed and was rescued by a local fortune teller who removes the hypnosis device. As a result, the Mara exerts control over Tegan.

The Doctor and Nyssa go back out to search for Tegan, and when Nyssa finds her, Tegan is erratic and runs away, hiding in a hall of mirrors where she confronts the Mara succumbs further to its control. The Doctor returns to Ambril and accurately matches current events to the legend of the return, which is detailed to him by Ambril’s assistant Chela. The Doctor reunites with Nyssa and explores the snake cave, while the Mara sends the operator of the mirror chamber to retrieve Lon. When he arrives at the booth, the Mara takes control of him.

The Doctor and Nyssa return to the TARDIS to analyze a blue crystal, which they presume may be the Great Crystal linked to the Mara. They discover that it is the key to the Mara’s full return. Meanwhile, Mara-Tegan and Mara-Lon have taken the carnival worker to the cave and opened the inner door, exposing the remnants of the ancient civilization within. Coming to the same conclusions, the Mara and the Doctor discover that Ambril knows where the crystal is located. The Doctor tries to retrieve it, but he is arrested. The Mara, on the other hand, entrances the carnival worker and sends Lon to fetch the crystal. Lon persuades Ambril, who has just shared the diary of his predecessor Dojjen with Chela, to return to the cave to see the chamber interior. The Mara convinces Ambril to return the Great Crystal to the cave during the ceremony.

Nyssa sneaks into the palace dungeon and tries to free the Doctor. As Chela shares the diary with the Doctor, Nyssa searches for the key to the cell. Nyssa is caught by Tanha and the Doctor discovers that Dojjen left his post to study the forbidden teachings of the Snakedancers.  Nyssa is reunited with the Doctor inside his cell, and they spend their time researching the crystal and the diary. The ancient Manussans were able to create the crystals, which transformed their negative emotions and thoughts into the Mara. They later forgot that they had created it, and the only memory of the Mara’s origins was maintained by the Snakedancers.

When Lon and Ambril announce their intention to bring the Great Crystal to the ceremony, Chela frees the Doctor and Nyssa. They are soon cornered by the palace guards, where Lon orders their immediate execution. Tanha intercedes, allowing the Doctor to tell his side of the story, and the Time Lord presumes that Lon has been marked by the Mara. Ambril offers to show them the Great Crystal, and while everyone is distracted, the Doctor, Nyssa, and Chela escape.

The Doctor uses his crystal to summon Dojjen, the mysterious man from the beginning of the serial. Together, they enact the Snakedance ritual, which requires a snakebite on their wrists so they can communicate telepathically. Dojjen counsels the Doctor to find his “still point” and destroy the Mara forever. As they commune, the community around them commences the celebration ritual.

As the celebration continues, Lon plays his customary part before breaking character and announcing the return of the Mara. The Doctor and company burst into the chamber as Lon places the Great Crystal and reveals the Mara, which feeds on the assembled crowd’s fear and grows stronger. The Doctor focuses his will through his “still point” and battles the Mara. The Mara tries to break the Doctor’s concentration by channeling a panicked Tegan, but Dojjen reinforces the Doctor’s center. The Doctor pulls the Great Crystal from the wall and the Mara’s influence is broken, causing the snake to fall to the ground and die.

Tegan is embarrassed and horrified at her actions, but the Doctor comforts her. He reassures her that the Mara is gone for good.

The good news is that the writers didn’t put Nyssa in a coma again. Additionally, she seems to have been well-briefed on Kinda‘s details before this adventure. The Doctor continues his fatherly development, and Nyssa got a chance to shine as she unwrapped the mystery. As Tegan, Janet Fielding sold the possession aspect quite nicely, leaving no part of the set unchewed.

But the story was only average. At least we’re free of the Mara now, right? Right?

Please?

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Mawdryn Undead

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #124: Arc of Infinity

Doctor Who: Arc of Infinity
(4 episodes, s20e01-e04, 1983)

 

A Time Lord is fooling around with the bio-data extracts of the Doctor and communicating with a mysterious holographic figure, an act that only a High Councilmember can perform. When he is discovered, he kills the security guard and disables the console. On the TARDIS, the Doctor and Nyssa are performing a little maintenance when they start to lose control. The mysterious being that received the Doctor’s biodata attacks the TARDIS and attempts to temporally bond with the Doctor. The attempt fails, and Nyssa discovers that the creature is made from antimatter and is shielded by an area of space called the Arc of Infinity.

On Earth in Amsterdam, two backpackers squat in a crypt at the Frankendael mansion (which is actually a real world place). In the middle of the night, they are awakened by the lights and sounds of a TARDIS materializing. When one of them investigates, he is attacked by a bird-like creature, and the other backpacker runs in fear. He ends up at a hostel where he has a reservation and discovers that his friend was expecting company: His cousin is arriving the next day.

The Time Lord High Council, led by new Lord President Borusa, are investigating the antimatter being and its link to the Doctor. The commander of the Chancellery Guard, a man with a familiar face named Maxil, orders the Doctor’s TARDIS to be recalled to Gallifrey. When it arrives, Maxil arrests the Doctor and Nyssa, and when the Doctor resists, he is shot. Luckily, the gun is set to stun.

What a welcome home. At least the one computer technician is friendly enough to help behind the scenes.

The Doctor and Nyssa are taken to the TARDIS, which Maxil powers down to prevent it from leaving, as the High Council discusses how they could have handled things better than meeting one of their own with guns. Of note, Councilor Hedin is played by Michael Gough, previously the Celestial Toymaker and soon to be Batman‘s butler. He doesn’t seem to age much.

Our remaining backpacker, who we shall call Robin (for that is his name), arrives at the airport to greet his friend’s cousin. His hypnotized friend is named Colin, and the new arrival is none other than Tegan. Robin and Tegan adjourn to a local café to discuss Colin.

Maxil retrieves the Doctor and Nyssa, escorting them by gunpoint to the council chambers. Nyssa, despite being an alien, is welcomed by the High Council. (Speaking of aliens, where are Leela and K9 in all of this?) They discuss the Doctor’s tumultuous history (including Romana’s conspicuous absence, although they don’t use her full name) before detailing the antimatter being’s threat to the universe and how to solve it. Since it is being drawn to the Doctor through his bio-data extracts, the obvious solution is to execute the Doctor. As the Doctor is led away to await execution, Nyssa pleads with the High Council. En route to the TARDIS, the Doctor meets up with Damon, the friendly computer technician, who slips him evidence of a traitor on the High Council.

Damon teams up with Nyssa and arranges to meet with the Doctor. They compare notes (including a mention of Leela) before Commander Maxil shoos the pair away. The order is given to execute the Doctor, and we discover that the antimatter being is in the TARDIS on Earth with Colin. Under the sound of a cloister bell, the Doctor is taken before the High Council and, despite a last minute appeal by Nyssa, given the same treatment as only one Time Lord before: Destruction.

At the exact moment of dispersal, the antimatter being attempts to bond again, and unbeknownst to the High Council, the two are directed into the Matrix. The Doctor’s body, on the other hand, was shielded and hidden by the traitorous councilor. The antimatter being reveals that his is a renegade Time Lord, but leaves the Doctor before explaining further. Meanwhile, Maxil and the Castellan discover that the Doctor survived and begin a search of the TARDIS and the Citadel.

On Earth, Tegan and Robin investigate Colin’s mysterious circumstances. They find the bird creature (an Ergon) and are transported inside the renegade’s TARDIS where they are scanned. The renegade uncovers Tegan’s connection to the Doctor and uses her as leverage to gain the Doctor’s cooperation. The Doctor resists at first, but relents as the renegade tortures Tegan. The Doctor is rematerialized in the Citadel, and the renegade releases Colin as a reward for Tegan’s assistance.

The Castellan analyzes Damon’s evidence, then assembles the High Council to reveal the traitor: Lord President Borusa. As the Castellan weaves a tale of treachery, the Doctor finds Damon and Nyssa in the computer room and makes plans to return to Earth. Meanwhile, the real traitor is revealed through communication to the renegade to be Councilor Hedin.

Oh, Alfred, how could you?

The Doctor and an armed Nyssa race to the TARDIS as Maxil and his guards pursue them. Our heroes come across Hedin, who has Borusa at gunpoint and is demanding access to the Matrix, and are captured by the traitor. Hedin reveals that the renegade is Omega and is going to be transferred to our universe. They are interrupted by the Castellan, who inadvertently kills Hedin and takes aim on the Doctor before being called off. They are all too late, however, as Omega takes control of the Matrix.

The Doctor enters the Matrix and uncovers Tegan’s location. He and Nyssa slip away undetected, return to Earth, and after a lengthy search, they find the crypt. They defeat the Ergon but fail to stop Omega’s transfer into normal matter, revealing an exact duplicate of the Doctor’s appearance. Unfortunately, the transfer was incomplete, and the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan chase Omega into the city as the renegade slowly deteriorates. The chase ends at the end of a dock, where the Doctor reluctantly expels Omega back to the antimatter dimension, ending the threat.

After checking on her cousin, Tegan reveals that she has nowhere else to go, and she rejoins the crew of the TARDIS as a willing passenger.

This story got a bit long in the tooth during elements of the chase and the return to Gallifrey, but much of that was absolved in the otherwise solid plot and characters. Definitely a good start to a new season.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Snakedance

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #123: Time-Flight

Doctor Who: Time-Flight
(4 episodes, s19e23-e26, 1982)

Timestamp 123 Time-Flight

 

This is what happens when supersonic goes supertemporal.

A Concorde is completing a trans-Atlantic flight to London when it disappears without a trace. On the TARDIS, the travelers have wrapped up the loose ends from Earthshock but not the grief from Adric’s sacrifice. Tegan asks the Doctor to go back and save him, but the Doctor cannot because it would unravel human history. He tells them that Adric died in the same way as his brother Varsh by giving his own life for those of others. Each the travelers mourns in their own way as the Doctor sets course for the Great Exhibition of 1851, but temporal turbulence from the Concorde incident forces the TARDIS to materialize initially over the runway at Heathrow and then inside a terminal. The Doctor rushes out and makes contact with airport security, using his UNIT credentials to get involved in the Concorde mystery.

Tegan tells Nyssa that, in the 1980s, police boxes have gone the way of flower power. She seems to forget that she actually stopped near one before joining the Doctor in Logopolis, which takes place only a year in the relative past. While both parts of her idiom are technically correct (and phased out around the same time), canonically police boxes are still around.

The Doctor has the TARDIS loaded onto another Concorde to repeat the first flight’s route and plan. The second plane falls into the same time-warp as first, but land at a place similar to Heathrow. The façade is broken when Nyssa spots a pile of skeletons and the travelers (and Concorde crew) discover that they have landed 140 million years in the past. Tegan spots the other Concorde, and with it a crashed spacecraft and a citadel in the distance.

The crew of the first Concorde, under control of an alien being unfortunately designed to look like the oriental mystic stereotype, take the TARDIS to the citadel. When crewmen from the second Concorde interfere, they are taken away by creatures that look like melted wax and soap bubbles. The Doctor is also captured by these beings, known as Plasmatons (blobs of protein in the atmosphere assembled into humanoid form), but is soon released. They encounter Professor Hayter, a passenger on the first flight whose work has trained his mind to evade the illusion.

The mystical alien realizes that Nyssa can detect his influence and encases her in a plasmatic shell. Tegan stays with Nyssa while the Doctor, Hayter, and Captain Stapley continue on. Hayter and Stapley work on freeing the entranced humans while the Doctor explores the caves and finds his TARDIS and the alien, who goes by the name Kalid. The Doctor deduces that Kalid is not the source of the psychic energy, but rather a conduit.

As Hayter and Stapley free the enslaved humans, Kalid focuses on stopping them, which frees Nyssa. Nyssa and Tegan continue to the citadel as Kalid attempts to force the Doctor to cooperate by menacing the Concorde groups. The ladies come across an apparition of Adric, but deduce that it is not real. Kalid continues his attempts to stop them with visions of the Melkur and the Terileptil, but the women rebuff each before coming to a futuristic tank-like device which they hit with a large rock. The act disrupts the psychic energy and reveals Kalid’s true identity: He is the Master.

After the destruction of Castrovalva, the renegade Time Lord was stranded in this time period and needs a new source of power for his TARDIS. He forces the Doctor to surrender the TARDIS key and steals the craft, intending to move it to the sanctum where the ladies disrupted the sarcophagus. The Doctor and Hayter find the newly freed humans from the future and task them with breaking into the sanctum. The Doctor discovers the Master’s TARDIS, which is where the remaining humans are being kept, and that the Master is looking for the source of the time-warp, which is centered on the sanctum. Once they break through, the Doctor and Hayter discover that there is something alive in the sarcophagus. Turns out that it is the entire Xeraphin race, once thought destroyed in the Vardon-Kosnax War. Nyssa nearly sacrifices herself to be a mouthpiece and conduit for the Xeraphin, but Hayter takes her place instead.

The Master rematerializes at the control room thanks to the Doctor’s earlier override of the coordinate controls. Stapley tries to sabotage the TARDIS, but he only helps the Master after being caught. The Master takes several control boards before sending the TARDIS into the atmosphere to hold position over the citadel.

The Xeraphin manifest as Anithon, who explains that they came to Earth to revive their race, but radiation poisoning forced them into hibernation. The Master arrived and tried to harness their power for his TARDIS, and the act resulted in a split between good and evil within the Xeraphin. The avatar splits into the good Anithon and evil Zarak, and the latter works with the Master to transport the sarcophagus to the evil Time Lord’s TARDIS.

The Master’s TARDIS takes off, and the Doctor’s TARDIS arrives with help from an avatar of Professor Hayter. Once the travelers are free of the sanctum, the Doctor deduces that the Master doesn’t have enough power to leave the area. Nyssa pilots the TARDIS with the Concorde crew to the planes while Tegan and the Doctor track down the Master. They all converge on the Concordes where the Master’s TARDIS has changed into the other plane but cannot leave due to Stapley’s sabotage. The Doctor negotiates terms, exchanging two operational planes, a functional TARDIS, and all of the humans for one part that the Master needs.

Everyone leaves prehistoric Earth. The serviceable Concorde ferries the twentieth-century humans, Nyssa, and the Doctor to London, with the TARDIS giving the plane the boost it needs to return home. The TARDIS materializes nearby, and the temporal limiter that the Doctor surrendered to the Master comes with a small catch: The Master’s TARDIS tries to materialize in the exact space-time coordinates as the Doctor’s, but ends up getting bounced to modern-day Xeriphas, where the Doctor hopes that the newly revived Xeraphin will keep the Master (and his newly fried temporal circuits) busy for some time.

The Doctor and Nyssa leave in the TARDIS, content in the assumption that Tegan is back where she wanted to be. Unfortunately, her expression tells a different story.

This was an average story bouyed up by the travelers. The companions work well together, and without Adric to share the spotlight, both women get a good chunk of the action and plot. Additionally, I’m really starting to see the attraction to Peter Davison’s Doctor and his continued fatherly evolution. The only negative is the acting, where there a few spots that still fall flat with the Fifth Doctor’s character.

Overall, this was a decent way to end the Fifth Doctor’s freshman series, but there’s still plenty of room to grow.

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

UP NEXT – Nineteenth Series Summary

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #122: Earthshock

Doctor Who: Earthshock
(4 episodes, s19e19-e22, 1982)

 

It wasn’t seeing him blown to bits. It was the silence at the end.

On Earth, a squad of soldiers led by Lieutenant Scott climb a hillside in a search for a missing science team. Professor Kyle, the lone survivor, accompanies them. The team descends into a cave system to continue the search. During the search, they are stalked by two shadowy figures and communications jamming.

In the TARDIS, the Doctor is reading Black Orchid (which has to be more exciting than the actual episode) and consoles a depressed Adric. The boy feels that he is not a valuable member of the team, and he asks to return to his home in E-Space. One might say that some of Adric’s woes are self-induced, but the Doctor avoids that minor detail by proclaiming that he cannot calculate the coordinates. After a heated exchange, Adric begins to make the calculations himself. The Doctor pilots the TARDIS to the cave system so he can take a break from Adric, who in turn has a few choice insults for the Time Lord.

The Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan examine the fossils in the cave walls and wax philosophically about the fate of the dinosaurs. Above ground, the squad’s scanner technician guides the search team to the Doctor’s position. Below ground, the shadowy figures pick off members of the team one by one, reducing them to steaming piles of goo. The figures do not appear on the scanner, probably because they aren’t alive.

When the soldiers intercept the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan, Lieutenant Scott accuses the Doctor of killing the squad members. After they uncover a metal hatch, the figures attack, and the Doctor identifies them as androids. The professor recognizes them as the beings that killed the science team. One of the androids identifies the Doctor, and its leader, a Cyberman, orders it to destroy everyone.

We haven’t seen the Cybermen since the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane faced them. This is a way different Cyberman than we’ve seen before. They’re a bit bulkier, have actual moving mouths, and are more verbose, emotional, and evolved.

The Doctor deduces that the androids are guarding the hatch, and working with Adric (who has left the TARDIS to look for the other travelers), the soldiers destroy the androids. The Doctor opens the hatch to reveal a bomb, which he disarms after taking everyone to the TARDIS and jamming the countdown signal. Through the remains of the androids, the Cybermen spot the TARDIS and understand who they are facing through a tour of previous encounters.

The Doctor pilots the TARDIS to the source of the bomb’s arming transmission, taking the soldiers because the ask to finish the job. En route, Adric and the Doctor make amends, and the boy decides to remain with his friends. The TARDIS arrives on a freighter in space, and the Doctor and Adric take a tour. The freighter is being inspected and replenished, and even though they are due for a bonus after they finish delivery, the crew’s morale is low since several of their number have gone missing.

The Doctor deliberately exposes himself to the security cameras, and the Cyber-Leader reveals to the audience that he has agents on the ship. All combined, the travelers are discovered and Captain Briggs sounds the alarm. A crewman named Ringway and two security guards pursue the intruders, but the guards are killed. Their screams draw the Doctor and Adric, who are confronted by Ringway at gunpoint and taken before the captain. The pair is interrogated by Captain Briggs before helping them to trap down a sudden power loss, which is related to the Cyber-Leader and his personal guard taking control of the ship, which is where they’ve been all along. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Scott, Tegan, and the soldiers search for the Doctor.

The Cybermen massacre the security teams, and the Doctor finally sees who he’s up against. The situation is exacerbated by Ringway’s revelation that he is working for the Cybermen. Ringway takes the bridge team hostage, but Adric, Briggs, and the Doctor incapacitate the traitor. Adric and the captain conclude that all 15,000 cargo containers likely carry Cybermen, which is bad since the cargo ship is heading for Earth. Meanwhile, the Cybermen use a thermal lance to penetrate the bridge security doors. Just as the door gives way, the Doctor reinforces it with antimatter, and the invading Cyberman is fused with.

Lieutenant Scott’s team destroys a Cyberman and critically damages a second. The damaged unit crawls to the Cyber-Leader just as the remaining bridge hatch is blown open. The Doctor meets the Cyber-Leader face to face, and Ringway is executed for not accounting for the soldiers on the TARDIS. The Cyber-Leader activates his army, filling the ship with Cybermen ready to invade Earth.

The Cyber-Leader turns the freighter into a missile aimed at Earth, intending to stop an interplanetary conference that plans to unite several civilizations against the Cybermen. Meanwhile, Tegan continues her reign of Ripley-like badassery by stalking through the cargo hold, armed with a Cyberman cannon, but is soon captured and taken to the bridge. The rest of Scott’s team make it back to the TARDIS, disabling a pursuing Cyberman patrol in the console room. Professor Kyle is killed in the crossfire.

The Cyber-Leader provokes the Doctor by threatening Tegan’s life to manipulate the Time Lord’s emotions. He leaves two Cybermen on the bridge with the crew and Adric to observe their emotions on impact, and then takes Tegan and the Doctor to the TARDIS to observe the impact from space. Scott and his team leave the TARDIS to search for the missing travelers and end up liberating the bridge. The captain suggests abandoning ship, but Adric sets to work on the unlocking the helm controls. Instead of stopping the ship, he inadvertently pushes it into time-warp. As the freighter barrels back through time, the Cyber-Leader orders the Doctor to land the TARDIS on the ship, but the Doctor cannot do so.

The captain orders the bridge crew to abandon the ship, but Adric slips out of the escape pod at the last second and breaks the final encryption code. On the TARDIS, our heroes realize that they’ve traveled back 65 million years and that the freighter is about to be the extinction event that kills the dinosaurs and paves the way for human evolution.

As Tegan distracts the Cyber-Leader, the Doctor grinds Adric’s badge for mathematical excellence into the Cyber-Leader’s chest unit. As he dies, the leader fires on the TARDIS control console, but falls to the floor as the Doctor fires the killing shot into the Cyberman’s chest. The damage to the console prevents the Doctor from rescuing Adric, and one critically damaged Cyberman destroys the freighter’s helm console.

Adric rides the freighter to the surface, ending his journey with the Doctor in a blaze of glory.

And even though I didn’t like him much, I shed a tear for his heroic exit.

 

With that powerful ending, it’s actually a little difficult to figure out where to go from here.

Overall, I enjoyed this story. It was well-written, even though it was slow in the beginning episode. The characters continue their ascent in the Fifth Doctor’s era, with Tegan stepping up with a touch of recklessness and the Doctor continuing his fatherly approach. Unfortunately, Nyssa was sidelined for a considerable portion of the story. And then there’s Adric.

Adric was far less annoying in this story, which is a good way to go out. He had his temper tantrum at the beginning which drove the plot, but he acquiesced and apologized before being the key that literally saved the world. He joins the small list of companions to die while traveling with the Doctor – the other two are Katarina and Sara Kingdom, both from The Daleks’ Master Plan – and his death was just as chilling but, in my opinion, more heroic. His arrogance was his downfall since nothing changed between him leaping out of the elevator and crashing into Earth, but his drive and motivation are something I admired.

Even though I knew it was coming – it’s very difficult to avoid spoilers around critical touchstones like this thirty-five years after the fact – the ending was still very emotional. Mind you, it doesn’t erase the problems I had with the character, but it does put a positive cap on his journey and growth.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Time-Flight

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #121: Black Orchid

Doctor Who: Black Orchid
(2 episodes, s19e17-e18, 1982)

Timestamp 121 Black Orchid

 

It’s more like Doctor Who and the Case of the Missing Drama.

The TARDIS materializes in 1925 at the Cranleigh Halt rail station through a really well-done effects sequence. Tegan is finally onboard with traveling with the Doctor, and the two non-Terran companions learn what a rail station is. A chauffeur gathers the travelers, claiming that the Doctor was expected, and drives them to a cricket match.

Our heroes meet Lord Charles Cranleigh, who joins the chauffeur in staring mouth agape at Nyssa, and the Doctor justifies his wardrobe by winning a cricket match. Tegan is really into it, but Nyssa and Adric (along with this humble watcher) have no idea what’s going on. Regardless, the Doctor’s stellar performance earns them a trip to the house to meet the rest of the family (“Doctor who?“). They also meet Lord Cranleigh’s fiancée, Ann Talbot, who is the spitting image of Nyssa.

Spoiler: It’s a convenient plot point that never warrants an explanation.

Tegan takes notice of a black orchid in a display case, which stands as a memorial to the Lady Cranleigh’s missing son George, an explorer and botanist. Ann was to marry George, but after his disappearance, she was engaged to Charles. The group finish their cocktails (or lack thereof for Nyssa and Adric) and retire to their rooms to prepare for the night’s costume ball. During all of this, a mysterious figure in gentleman’s attire unties himself and skulks about, eventually stealing the Doctor’s party costume and trapping the Time Lord in the house’s secret passageways.

We also learn at pointed (and pretty much useless) bit of information about the Nyssa-Ann pair: One of them has a mole on their shoulder. They use the circumstances to dress in identical costumes as a joke.

Adric, on the other hand, wears his badge for mathematical excellence on his costume. Because of course, he does.

The festivities proceed as the Doctor explores the house and its secrets, but the mysterious figure arrives at the party and invites Ann to dance. They end up back inside the house, and the stranger attacks Ann and kills a servant. After Ann faints, the stranger puts her in a bed and returns the costume to the Doctor’s room. At this point, we finally see his disfigured face.

The Doctor discovers a body in a cupboard, then encounters Lady Cranleigh and her servant Latoni, an Amazonian with a stretched lip. After seeing the dead body, everyone agrees to keep the whole affair silent. The lady and Latoni then go to the room containing Ann; the young woman races to Lady Cranleigh (believing it all to be a dream) while Latoni gathers a length of rope to detain the stranger.

Lady Cranleigh and Ann converge at the site of the murdered servant at the same time as the Doctor, and the Time Lord is framed for the murder and assault. The Doctor attempts to prove his innocence with the hidden body, but the cupboard is now empty. The Doctor’s inadvertent cover story is blown as the (medical) doctor the family was expecting calls with his regrets, and the Time Lord is taken into custody. He asks the police sergeant to stop at the rail station to show everyone a vital piece of evidence, but the TARDIS is missing. Once the group arrives at the police station, they discover the TARDIS (a police box that no key will open), and everyone piles in, casting light on the Doctor’s story.

At the house, the mysterious stranger breaks free of his bonds, strangles Latoni, and sets fire to the room’s door. The Doctor pilots the TARDIS to the manor as Ann learns a disturbing truth. We have it confirmed minutes later as Lady Cranleigh admits that the stranger is really George. He was caught in the Amazon and cut apart by a tribe for disrupting their sacred black orchids, but was rescued by Latoni’s tribe and returned home. Unfortunately, George bursts into the parlor and kidnaps Nyssa, set on being with his former fiancée. The Doctor and Charles rush to the rescue, and when all is said and done, Nyssa is saved and George is killed by accident.

After the funeral, in gratitude for everything the travelers have done, the Cranleigh family give the companions their fancy dresses from the party. They also give the Doctor a gift in George Cranleigh’s book, Black Orchid.

On the upside, the plot moved quickly with little filler. On the downside, it was utterly predictable once the orchid and George’s disappearance were laid out. After that, it became a somewhat painful short story that played on a train car full of Doctor Who tropes. It had no drama and no tension. It was just there.

What saves this serial is the acting and characters. While the Doctor was pretty much relegated to the background, the companions stole the show: Adric’s typical annoyance was nowhere to be found; Tegan was enjoying herself; and Sarah Sutton got a chance to really shine in a dual role, which she played as two individual characters with distinct styles. I’m seriously in awe of her range and skills after this story.

On a sad note, this is the last of the historical (non-science fiction/fantasy) serials in classic Who.

All told, Black Orchid really benefits from rounding up.

 

 

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

 

UP NEXT – Timestamp Special #4: The Thirteenth Doctor

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.